Born in 1937 in a port city a thousand miles north of Shanghai, Adeline Yen Mah was the youngest child of an affluent Chinese family who enjoyed rare privileges during a time of political and cultural upheaval. But wealth and position could not shield Adeline from a childhood of appalling emotional abuse at the hands of a cruel and manipulative Eurasian stepmother. Determined to survive through her enduring faith in family unity, Adeline struggled for independence as she moved from Hong Kong to England and eventually to the United States to become a physician and writer.
The author so clearly expresses the pain of her childhood years. In one episode where she talks about a pet chick she had, the scenario is heartrending. It is hard to believe that human beings, particularly parents or those entrusted to care for our young can be so oblivious to their feelings and needs.
I'm disappointed in this book. I thought it would be the story of "an unwanted Chinese daughter" but it's more of a "poor me" litany of diatribes against Adeline's step-mother Niang. It's a pretty one-sided story. I was very upset about how this story was written as if it were a vendetta against her entire family. Even the good points she makes about her family members (except for her dearly beloved and kindly Aunt Baba), she does so with the intent of showing how each hurt her.
If not for her Ye Ye (paternal grandfather), aunt and, later, her second husband, Adeline would not have anyone who nurtured and loved her. Her aunt encouraged and celebrated her educational successes and through this Adeline eventually became a successful anesthesiologist.
What is my reaction to the book? I thought it was interesting, incredible and difficult. Interesting in that it’s the story of a family’s life during major historical events in China and Hong Kong. I use incredible because the level of treachery and betrayal in the Yen family is almost unbelievable. Except for Susan, the youngest daughter of Joseph and Niang who was disowned for telling her mother what she thought of her, the rest of the children continued to allow themselves to be spun within Niang's web throughout their lives—either because of filial responsibility or to ensure that they received their inheritance. So my final word is difficult—difficult reading passages where Adeline, the ever filial daughter, sought love, acceptance and family togetherness and was often duped and betrayed.
Heartbreaking is that shed is relaly unwanted by her whole family and she ends up in an orphanage. You shoudl think that with a big familyh like this there woudl be more love and more democracy but I assume the circumstances and the upbringing of the family memeber to always bow to the family head are hard to understand to us in the modern times.
I was surprise how mean your own siblings can be.
She should have cut her ties to the family instead of trying and trying again to please to be accepted. THere is always two. One who is abusing and one who lets the abuse happen.
very sad but haunting story.
Their only allies in the family are their grandfather, Ye Ye, and their Aunt Baba. The elderly Ye Ye could not do much to offset the problem. But Aunt Baba - She became our surrogate mother, worrying about our meals, clothing, schooling and health. An invisible silken handcuff was thus slipped around her willing wrists, evaporating her chances of marriage and a family of her own.
When the cultural revolution creates hardship on the country, moves must be made, and the family split. Their father (a rich businessman) and his wife flee, taking Ye Ye and some of the children. Aunt Baba and Madeline are left elsewhere. Ye Ye's letters to Aunt Baba became more and more despondent. 'All of us clings tenaciously to life,' Ye Ye wrote, 'but there are fates worse than death: loneliness, boredom, insomnia, physical pain. I have worked hard all my lief and saved every cent. Now I wonder what it was all about. The agony and fear of dying, surely that is worse than death. In this house where I count for nothing, du ri ru nian (each day passes like a year). Could death really be worse. Tell me, daughter, what is there left for me to look forward to?
Madeline describes her childhood, unloved save for Ye Ye and Aunt Baba, and then separated from both of them, her experiences at school, and finally medical school, becoming a doctor, and still under the thumb of her stepmother.
After she is able to return to China, there is a poignant reunion with her Aunt Baba, and Madeline is able to stay with her aunt during her last days. Aunt Baba was not one to dwell on the bitter hardships she suffered during the Cultural Revolution. Love, generosity and humour never left her. Life had come full circle. Luo ye gui gen. (Falling leaves return to their roots.) I felt a wave of repose, a peaceful serenity.
Here is a story of life in China, a bit of Chinese history, a look into the culture and family life through the eyes of one Chinese girl.
This book taught me more about Chinese social and political history than any school book ever did. The use of Chinese writing and proverbs (with occasional discussion of Chinese calligraphy) was fascinating. By the time the book reached its closing chapters I was sorry to see it end.
While his first five children were still young their father remarried, a much younger, glamourous, demanding woman, and the children's lives change dramatically for the worse under the malign, arbitrary and vicious rule of 'niang'.
As the story of a life it is rather depressing - Adeline has brains and determination, but is completely unable to step out of the web of family obligation: even when she is in another country she is in thrall to it.
There are some interesting insights into the Chinese psyche and the affects of Mao's Cultural revolution, and I particularly liked the chapter headings of Chinese proverbs. There are many parallels with Jung Chang's Wild Swans, although that is the better book.
Adeline's mother dies after giving birth to her, the 5th child. Her father remarries a beautiful, young, half-French woman - the epitome of the wicked stepmother. The verbal and emotional abuse heaped on Adeline and her siblings 9but mostly on her), as reported, is heartbreaking. It's a fascinating story. But ...
I couldn't help but wonder why Adeline didn't wake up and assert herself as she grew to adulthood. Perhaps it's because she is of a different culture than I, but she winds up sounding somewhat "whiny" to me.
The use of Chinese sayings (in chinese characters) was effective at first - but I got tired of this device.
Fallen Leaves is a memoir about a Chinese girl whose father marries a real Bitch. He seem beguiled by his wife's beauty and strength and stands silently by as she torments his children, Adeline in particular. As the years roll along and more children are born, the house is divided, His children on one floor of the large home and her children on the floor where their parents live.
For this woman's entire life she aches to get her parent's approval and love.
Why she does this to her own detriment, isn't explained well enough, but is that something that can be explained????
I enjoyed her writing, she has a lovely vocabulary and paints a nice picture.
Was the book exciting, riveting . . . no, but I did want to know what happened in the end.
Falling Leaves is a sad look, at a family and the back stabbing that comes with a (and I hate to use the word) dysfunctional family.
From a historical point of view, any person's memoirs can be very interesting, and given the fact that Adeline Yen Mah comes from a wealthy family makes her autobiographical work of more significance. Her work may be of interest to historians who study Chinese history, the history of immigrants into Hong Kong or Chinese-Americans, particularly in the first half on the 20th century. However, the dual editions of Falling leaves indicate that the author does not specifically have that audience in mind.
The picture that emerges from her memoirs, shows that the author comes from an incredibly privileged background. However, throughout the book the reader is struck by her portrayal of her family members, who are all exposed as extremely selfish. Her father, and especially her step-mother, most of her brothers, and Lydia, the family member left behind in Communist China. This selfishness reaches its pivot in the final chapters when the inheritance is to be divided.
Throughout the book the author describes herself as the great pacifier, the angelic daughter who studies medicine to become a doctor and thus a helper of mankind. While the emancipatory novelty is a fact, the author tends to make more of her own effort, and downplay the role of her wealthy family background of privilege.
The subtitle of the book indicates very clearly what the author's real preoccupations are: The memoir of an unwanted Chinese daughter. Throughout the book she keeps raising her wining voice, calling for pity with her, for being an unwanted daughter, unwanted, unloved and denied what? Oh, yes... her share of the inheritance. In essence, the book is not much more than a vain attempt by a narcissistic and spoilt woman to have the last say.
The book is a perfect illustration of the decadent, privileged life of the upper-class Chinese that the Communist Revolution in China so successfully got rid of. The book is very well-written, and the historical transitions from Tianjin to Shanghai, on to Hong Kong and her life in other parts around the world are of historical interest. Above all, the book is of interest because it exposes the degrees of greed and hatred of wealthy Chinese families, in as far as we can separate those facts from the self-pity of the author.
The author's mother died while delivering her. Adeline was the youngest of five, an older sister and three older brothers. A short time after her mother passed away, her father decided to remarry. They called their new mother Niang, a more formal designation for mother. Sadly, Niang was not thrilled to accept five new children along with her new husband. She was cold and distant, and as soon as her son was born, created a hierarchy in the household. Her son was favored. She and her husband kept the wealth for themselves and the chosen child, while the other children were required to practice austerity, supposedly to learn to appreciate the money that their father worked so hard to obtain. Since their father was an extremely wealthy man, this deprivation was cruel and absurd. The first half of the book covered Adeline's childhood, crushed under an oppressive regime. Not only did her parents mistreat her, but her siblings also picked on her, the youngest, the one who killed their mother, the child who earned Niang's special displeasure.
The second part of the autobiography was less infuriating, as the author escaped to England to pursue her medical education, and was not directly under her Niang's influence. Eventually, she moved to America and established a successful medical practice. After a disastrous first marriage, she met someone who truly cared for her, and started her own family. She had two children, and wrote that she was happy for the chance to lavish love on her children in a way that she never received.